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When a paywalled newspaper reports having more unique visitors than its number of digital-access subscribers, several factors can contribute to this discrepancy. The type of paywall in place, either hard or metered, plays a significant role:

Hard Paywall:

Landing Pages & Previews: Users might land on the website through search engines, social media, or other referrals, but they can only view a headline or snippet before encountering the paywall.

Multiple Devices: A single subscriber accessing content from different devices (e.g., phone, tablet, desktop) could be counted as multiple unique visitors.

Shared Links: Subscribers might share links with non-subscribers, who then visit the site but can’t access the full content.

Metered Paywall:

Free Access: Users can read a certain number of articles without subscribing, leading to a higher number of unique visitors who might not convert to subscribers.

Clearing Cookies: Some users might clear their browser cookies or use private browsing to reset the metered count, accessing more articles without subscribing.

Distinction Between Unique Visitors and Total Visitors:

Unique Visitors: Represents distinct individuals visiting a website during a specific period, regardless of how often they visit.

Total Visitors: Encompasses all visits, including multiple visits by the same user. A single non-paying visitor can rack up multiple visits, further widening the gap between unique visitors and subscribers.

Impact of News Aggregators and Distributed Content:

News Aggregators: Platforms like Apple News or Google News can lead to an influx of unique visitors who might not necessarily subscribe.

Email Newsletters: Summaries or select articles shared through newsletters can drive traffic but not necessarily lead to subscriptions.

Other Influencing Factors:

SEO: Articles optimized for search engines can draw significant traffic, especially if they cover trending topics or breaking news.

Promotions & Trials: Special offers or partnerships can boost visitor numbers temporarily, but not all these visitors will convert to long-term subscribers.

Social Media & Referrals: Viral articles can attract a vast number of unique visitors in a short time, but many might not engage further with the newspaper.

In conclusion, while the type of paywall plays a crucial role in influencing the discrepancy between unique visitors and subscribers, other factors like SEO, promotions, and content distribution channels also significantly impact these dynamics.

Recommended Reading on Paywalls and Visitor Metrics

  • Leaky Paywall – Will Your Paywall Kill Your Website Traffic and Ad Revenue?
  • Search Engine Journal – Paywalls & SEO Strategy
  • AT Internet Blog – Visits, Visitors, Unique Visitors: What are the Differences for the Web Analyst?
  • Gwern – Economics of Advertising (PDF)
  • Columbia Journalism Review – Early Results from the Newsday